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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                        305
three planes were in the air, Meresyev's group hopped off
and followed them, leaving the flat earth swaying beneath
them. Keeping the first trio in sight, Meresyev lined his
up behind it, and behind his came the third.
They reached the forward line. The ground, pitted and
torn up by shells, looked from the air like a dusty road
after the first drops of a heavy rain. Ploughed-up
trenches, blindages looking like pimples, and gun
emplacements now nothing but heaps of logs and
bricks. Yellow sparks flashed all along the mutilated
valley; they came from the conflagration of the gigantic
battle raging below. How small, toylike and strange it
all looked from above! One could scarcely believe that
down below everything was burning, roaring, in convul-
sion, that death was prowling amidst the smoke and
soot on the mutilated earth, reaping an abundant har-
vest.
They flew across the battle-line, made a half-circle
over the enemy's rear and recrossed the battle-line. No-
body fired at them. Those down below were too busy with
their own grim earthly affairs to pay attention to the nine
tiny aircraft that were spiralling above them. But where
were the tanks? Aha! There they were! Meresyev saw
them creep out of the wood, one behind the other, looking
from the air like grey, awkward beetles. Soon quite a
large number had emerged, but more and more came
creeping out of the greenery and moved along the roads
and hollows. The first of them raced up the hill and
reached the shell-ploughed ground. Red sparks appeared
from their trunks. A child, even a nervous woman, would
not have been frightened by this tremendous tank attack,
by this impetuous rush of hundreds of machines against
the remnants of the German lines, if they had viewed it
from the air together with Meresyev. At this moment,
amidst the crackling and buzzing in the ear-phones in
his helmet, he heard the hoarse and even now listless
voice of Captain Cheslov:
"Attention! I am Leopard three! I am Leopard three,
'Stukas', 'Stukas' to starboard!"
Ahead of him Alexei saw a short horizontal line. It
was the Commander's plane. The plane rocked. That
meant: "Do as I do!"
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